Saturday, March 10, 2007

Living in Scotland

After a 6-year hiatus, I am back in Europe. During our previous 2-year assignment in Germany, we spent a lot of time traveling around Europe, as evidenced by this blog. There are many places in Europe that we loved, but my two favorites were Scotland and Norway. My wife and I often talked about living in one or the other. And while we weren’t actively looking to move back to Europe, in the fall of 2006 I received an inquiry about an internal transfer to Aberdeen, Scotland. We did not have to think about it for long, and on January 26th I flew from Montana to Scotland to start work. My family will join me here in June.

My New Village in Scotland

Having been here for over a month, my impressions from my first visit to Scotland have been reinforced. These really are the nicest people you could ever meet, and the scenery is beautiful. I probably have a door held open for me a dozen times a day, and everyone is always so cheerful and polite.

Driving here still makes me a little nervous. Driving on the left now feels natural to me, but there are some things I don't like. First, my drive to work is on a narrow, winding road. Most country roads here are that way, and sometimes you don't have much warning before a road will make a sudden curve. Second, when I leave for work it is dark, and very frequently raining. So, not only am I driving on the left and on a winding, narrow road, but it is dark and slippery. However, I could handle all of that OK if it weren't for something else. Despite the fact that that people are incredibly polite, many tend to drive very fast. I try to take my time on the narrow roads, but I almost always have someone who will come right up on my bumper. I have driven all the way to work before with someone about 10 feet off my bumper. I have also been passed going around one of those curves before. So, it didn't surprise me to hear that there is a high frequency of road fatalities here.

Aberdeen is an affluent city, and things tend to be expensive. When we moved to Germany, we found that food cost about the same as in the U.S. Here, almost all food items are double the price in the U.S. And as in any country, there are a lot of strange food items. There is haggis, pork faggots, black pudding, and various other food items that I won't be eating in my lifetime. But the Scots do one thing better than anyone: Sweets. I gave up sugar before I left the U.S., but I have regressed a bit since coming here. The volume and variety of sweets here is simply unbelievable. I work with another American, and he has commented on this to me as well. The first time I was in a supermarket, I encountered a long aisle that was all sweets. Then, a couple of aisles over, there was another aisle that was all sweets. So, I have partaken of a few of the sweets, and one of them, called a tart fancy, is simply the most delicious thing I have ever put in my mouth. My kids are going to love it, but we will need to stock up on toothpaste.

Of course gasoline is about $6.50 a gallon here. But, I am driving a very fuel efficient vehicle, so that doesn't impact me much. I am trying to substantially lower my fossil fuel usage here. They make it easy to recycle, and I am recycling everything I can. I still have not filled up an entire sack with garbage. I found a house not too far from work. I have a grocery store that isn't too far from home, and I walk down and get groceries a couple of times a week. Yesterday, after having been here for 6 weeks, I finally had to put gas in my car. I have also been tweaking the programmable thermostat, which also controls the hot water heater. I have gone too far a couple of times and ended up taking a cold shower in a cold house before going to work.

Getting money transferred without getting ripped off has been a challenge. I got my first bill from my Citibank Mastercard, and they hit me for a 3% foreign transaction fee on every purchase I have made here. I transferred some money from my bank in the U.S., and not only did I not get a good exchange rate, but the banks on both ends hit me for a total of $60. So today I applied for a Capital One No Hassle Cash Rewards Card. You get 1% cash back on purchases, and there are no foreign transaction fees. I just wish I had done that before moving over here.

Work is very interesting. I have a group of 12, and it is very diverse. I have 2 Iranian men, an Indian woman, a Malaysian man, 3 Scottish women, 4 Scottish men, and me in the group. We are working primarily on natural gas projects in the North Sea. I love to learn about diverse cultures, so I have spent a lot of time talking to people about their cultures. I have had lots of discussions with one of the Iranian men, and he is very concerned about war with the U.S. His family is still in Tehran, and it pains me to think about what he must be going through. Let's just hope that tensions calm down and the U.S. and Iran adopt a more friendly stance.

It is sunny today and not too cold, and I have learned to take advantage of those times. So, that's all for now, and I am off for a 5-mile walk.

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